Miami Beach police sergeant contracts Zika virus

Sgt. Michelle Sayegh first law enforcement officer to contract virus in US

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Sgt. Michelle Sayegh has worked as a Miami Beach police officer for the past 12 years, putting her life on the line to protect people. But now her life has been greatly affected after contracting the Zika virus.

It's a public health concern she realizes doesn't affect just her, but all first responders.

"I had real bad body aches," Sayegh said. "I felt like a train hit me. I had muscle pain that was unbearable."

Sayegh said her hands swelled up and she had a rash from head to toe.

In an exclusive interview with Local 10 News, Sayegh opened up about her journey with the dangerous virus.

She first thought that she was getting sick and was just stressed out, until headlines confirmed two cases of the Zika virus on Miami Beach.

She said she patrols the streets within the city's Zika zone.

"I'm a sergeant for the entertainment district, which is, you know, Ocean (Drive), Collins (Avenue) and Washington Avenue, and myself and my whole squad have to work on Ocean Drive, walking on foot," she said.

This is the first case of the Zika virus in the nation among first responders, who can be at higher risk because their job requires them to be outside for hours at a time.

"I brought it to the attention of the department because I wanted everybody to be aware of what was going on, for the department to take precautions (and) for my fellow employees to take precaution that, hey, this is serious," Sayegh said.

Sayegh has lost 20 pounds since contracting the virus and said that she had to give up running because of joint pain.

Besides dealing with the ongoing complications, she's now dealing with stress from it on the job.

"Once I came back to work, then they advised me that they weren't going to cover me under workman's comp and that I would have to use my own sick time after being told to stay home," Sayegh said.

With the Zika virus continuing to spread, Sayegh fears other officers might find themselves in her predicament, so she's fighting for precedence.

"We need to make sure that our membership throughout the United States is covered for this kind of a disease or infection," Florida State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police president Bobby Jenkins said.

"My concern isn't only my pay, it's covering me if anything were to happen in the future with this, and they're not covering me under workman's comp," Sayegh said.

Miami Beach spokeswoman Tonya Daniels told Local 10 News in a statement that the city will arrange free Zika testing for any city employee.

"Currently, any employee's claim of Zika would be covered by Florida Statute 440.151, which states in part that the employee must show any disease was contracted while engaged in employment and he/she must show that exposure took place while working," Daniels said. "It is important to remember that Zika is also transmitted by means other than a mosquito bite, which additionally makes it difficult for exact time and location of transmission to be determined." 

Sayegh is back at work full time, but she's still experiencing symptoms more than a month after she was diagnosed with the virus. She is still working with physicians to see what long-term effects she might experience.